As often happens in small towns, a mix of rumor and fact remains in circulation as residents in Plains fumble for the truth about the recent murder of 17-year-old Steven “Bubba” Ash. The official story—as revealed in court documents—details a sordid series of events spun into motion after Ash allegedly stole four ounces of marijuana from 41-year-old Roxanna Lee Shepard. Shepard, along with two teenage accomplices, is now charged with Ash’s murder.
On July 24, the three reportedly drove Ash to Lake Corona, where he was shot twice in the head. Some of Ash’s belongings were found in the lake, and on July 28 his body was found nearby.
For many in Plains, Ash’s murder offered tragic proof of the town’s rampant drug problem.
“I don’t know anyone who would disagree that at least 50 percent of the kids are on drugs,” says Plains local Les Wood.
Wood is one of several people involved in a pair of recent anti-drug efforts. There was an anti-drug rally that drew more than 100 residents to downtown Plains on Aug. 23, and the following day a group tentatively called Parents Against Drugs held an organizational meeting.
“We’ve been waiting for law enforcement to do something and nothing’s been done,” says Wood.
Sheriff Gene Arnold seems to be taking most of the blame for what’s perceived by some as his department’s less-than-vigorous war on drugs. But like the circumstances surrounding Ash’s murder, the anti-sheriff sentiment is also mired in gossip and innuendo. Reports of a formal effort to recall Arnold turned out to be false, and the sheriff counters claims that his department hampered efforts to find Ash’s body. He says thousands of dollars in overtime pay went to officers working the Ash case.
It’s a case that continues to inspire a variety of rumors. They range from the horrific to the sinister, including one involving a meat grinder. Looking to silence the whispers and sensational media coverage, Shepard’s defense attorney Kirk Krutilla has requested a gag order in the case.
Krutilla says the county’s case is based on “second-hand hearsay.” And when it comes time to pick a jury from the tight-knit Sanders County community, says Krutilla, “I’m afraid people are going to believe the rumors and not be able to make a fair decision.”